Italian court sparks outrage by clearing man of sexual assault for ‘quickly groping’ teenage student


An Italian court has acquitted a school assistant of sexually assaulting a student, finding the counselor only touched the student “for 5 to 10 seconds” with no “libidinal or lustful intention”.

The 17-year-old Roman high school student – known only as “Laura” – was climbing the school steps with a friend as she pulled up her trousers. That’s when 66-year-old Antonio Avola came up behind her, slipped his hand down her pants and lifted her slightly in the air by her underwear.

Avola admitted touching the girl in the April 2022 incident at the Roberto Rossellini High School in Rome, but insisted it was just a hoax. The Roman prosecutors asked for a prison sentence of three and a half years. However, the court ruled on July 6 that the contact was so brief that it cast “serious doubts” about Avola’s intentions, saying the defense’s argument that it was a joke was “convincing.”

Laura, who is now 18, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: “The caretaker came from behind without saying anything. Then he ran his hands down my pants and panties. He was fondling my butt,” the teenager said. “Then he pulled me up so hard my privates hurt. This is no joke, at least for me.”

The court ruled that no crime had been committed as there was no intent to harass the student and that the aide’s behavior was “awkward” but free of lust. “The suddenness of the action, which may be considered ‘almost a light touch’ without any insistence on the touch, does not permit the interpretation of the libidinal or greedy intention commonly required in criminal law,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

“I was angry,” Laura told Corriere della Sera upon hearing the verdict. “It’s not justice. I’m starting to think that trusting the institutions was a mistake because I feel betrayed twice – first at the school where the incident happened and then by the court.”

Tullia Nargiso, coordinator of a regional student organization, told Italian media: “We are outraged by the reasoning behind the judgement. Once again, harassment is not recognized as such for an absurd reason, this time because of its duration.”

The ruling sparked outrage in Italy, where both men and women have posted videos of themselves on social media using the hashtag “#10secondi” (“10 seconds”) or “#palpatebreve” (“quick touch”). The videos show men and women fondling themselves or others while a timer counts down for ten seconds, underscoring how long it takes.

The social media campaign was created by actor Paolo Camilli, who starred in the TV series White Lotus. While rubbing his chest for ten seconds, he says in Italian, “If this isn’t harassment, what is?”

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